Without sounding too much like a cracked record, I must record that justice and equity as ideals and goals for both communities and individuals are major take-aways from Psalm 106, as well as 99 listed for the following Sunday.
It only takes a few lines of this psalm before the word ‘justice’ leaps out of the page. Having declared in the opening verses the goodness and mercy of the divine spirit, the psalmist says:
Happy are those who act with justice and always do what is right. (v.3)
This is perhaps preparation for the history lesson that follows on life on the road, or perhaps on the sand hills, after crossing the Red Sea. Didn’t we just have all that history in the previous Psalm 105 which has appeared four times recently? True, it’s very similar but here the emphasis is on the failings of the people rather than lessons in divine faithfulness and guidance.
So verse 3 is like setting up the gold standard against which the doubting and digressions of the children of Israel as they journey to the promised land are set out in contrast. The most egregious of these failings seems to have been creating and worshipping empty gods.
In case the reader is inclined to take a purely legalistic view of justice, it is further explained in this short verse as simply doing ‘what is right’.
How long is that piece of string? Debatable, certainly: but behavioural and ethical rectitude, informed by the ‘law’ of biblical precepts, is a far cry from parliaments and courts of law. Like the 1520s building in Dijon shown here, such institutions tend to be formal, decorated, procedural, literal and often inaccessible to the common people.
The psalmist is clearly not pining for this realm. He or she is affirming that ‘right’ did not include creating idols, disbelieving promises, bucking against the leadership, and making unholy alliances and sacrifices. It would seem that these were specialties of the Exodus escapees, perhaps driven by an instinct for survival in hardship, with a good mix of selfishness and superstition thrown in. No law can eradicate superstition — these days we might substitute fake news, cults and conspiracy theories.
To read more on this psalm and music choices, please see the main page on 106.
Psalms For All Seasons 106A, It is good to give thanks, is by John Bell, so is prima facie worthy of attention. It emphasises the enduring and patient nature of divine love and forgiveness. It offers a sung verse rather than suggesting recitation or a tone. Sounds good to us, albeit sub-optimal in the requisite home-video delivery.
That choice, tuneful and enjoyable as it might be, does nothing to assuage our longing for a good a cappella sing together, still regrettably out of reach. If circumstances differ we could turn to several good pieces. For example, fifty years after the Palais de Justice was built in Dijon and on the other side of La Manche, little Tommy Tomkins was born to a father of the same name. This happy event ultimately led to the creation of a TTBB setting, a fragment of Psalm 106 by Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) entitled Remember me, from Musica Deo sacra (London, 1668). The motet by this excellent composer, originally from the south-west corner of Wales and later friend of Orlando Gibbons, begins in moderate tones with two voices:
It’s worth the few minutes it takes to enjoy this motet based on verse 4:
Remember me, O Lord, according to the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation;